Shelter for smokers goes up in smoke

Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2002

The state health department has killed a proposal to build a shelter by the Alaska Office Building for its employees who smoke.

The commissioner of the state Health and Social Services Department decided against the idea today because the proposal was not in harmony with the agency's mission to discourage smoking, said Janet Clarke, director of administrative services.

"We understand people are addicted, but it made better sense for us to promote a no-smoking environment as much as possible," Clarke said.

The idea for a smoking shelter came from an advisory committee of employees who work in the building on Main Street, Clarke said. The panel made the recommendation in response to a memo last month by Jim Duncan, commissioner of the Department of Administration.

Duncan asked state employees to comply with a new Juneau law prohibiting smoking within 10 feet of entrances to public buildings. State facilities are exempt from the anti-smoking law, but Duncan said the state should be a good neighbor and respect the ordinance.

Duncan also said it was important that there be "some accommodation" so employees can smoke near their offices and under cover from Juneau's inclement weather, if possible.

The only covered areas outside the Alaska Office Building are within 10 feet of the entrances, Clarke said. The change meant employees would have to smoke in areas exposed to bad weather or walk to shelter away from the building, she said.

The advisory committee endorsed building a smoking shelter and Clarke defended the idea Wednesday, saying the agency should present reasonable options so employees "can deal with their addiction as well as do their work on a timely basis."

Clarke said the idea was only in the conceptual phase, but the agency's facilities manager apparently believed the project was approved for construction.

Facilities Manager Arnold Liebelt sent a recent memo to the building's occupants saying the state "will be constructing a smoking shelter" and that the 8-feet-by-14-foot structure would be fully enclosed with ventilation, lighting and seating.

The memo disturbed some state employees, who questioned the wisdom of spending public money on a smoking shelter.

The project also drew criticism from Rep. Con Bunde, an Anchorage Republican who has pushed tougher tobacco laws. Bunde said the agency was supposed to discourage tobacco use but that it was promoting the habit by making it more convenient for employees to smoke.

The project died a quick death. Commissioner Jay Livey met with agency directors today and killed the proposal because the shelter was "not in concert with our mission," Clarke said.

Employees who smoke will have to stand outside the covered entrances or walk to sheltered areas located away from the building, she said. The state has an outdoor, covered area for smokers on the 8th floor of the State Office Building, which is attached to the Alaska Office Building by a covered bridge.

Kathy Dye can be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com.



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